I remember now why blogging was such a precious friend of mine in the past. Why each post seemed to flow like a gentle stream of water. Why I’ve returned to it at this time in my life, knowing fair well that my free time is even more special now. Blogging serves as a release for me, as I’m sure it does for many. I find it difficult to sit down and write on a schedule or force my way through words just to create a blog post. No, that’s not what this space is. Just like yoga, my blog will serve as a space of freedom, of true release, and of authenticity.
Here I stand on my molehill, projecting my voice softly to you; to the experienced yoga teachers, to the new yoga teachers, to those in training, and to the many, many curious students on the other side of this computer screen. And even those of you who wouldn’t consider yourself a yoga student. Believe it or not, if you’re concentrating on this blog post right now, you’re practicing yoga (concentration or Dharana is the 6th limb, one of the core roots of yoga). Welcome to realizing that yoga is in literally everything we do and join me in learning how we can apply yoga to daily life.
8 Limbs of Yoga
Where to even begin learning the basics of yoga? Trust me, this is a thought I had before beginning my teacher training. Aside from yoga’s lineage, which is truly eye-opening and interesting for anyone to learn, I thought we’d start right here, with the 8 core steps that form the path of yoga.
Think yoga is simply a form of working out that involves being flexible? Man oh man, are you about to be awakened.
(1) YAMA: Universal morality. The first of the limbs refers to the restraints or moral disciplines that are used when we interact with the world around us. One of the most beautiful things you’ll discover as you begin and continue to practice yoga, is that your view of the world will slowly become more and more soft, more compassionate. This is achieved through the practice of the 5 Yamas: Ahimsa (compassion for all living things), Satya (commitment to truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Bramacharya (sense control), Aparigraha (neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard).
(2) NIYAMA: Personal observances. To live more wholly, the Yamas must be accompanied by the Niyamas, which can be thought of as restraints or disciplines to be used on yourself. Some will find this limb of yoga more challenging, while others find joy in self-growth. Practicing the 5 Niyamas includes: Sauca (purity and cleanliness), Santosa (contentment), Tapas (disciplined use of our energy), Svadhyaya (self study), Isvarapranidhana (celebration of the spiritual). The Niyamas allow us all to journey down the path to our Self (our soul) and create more self-awareness in our lives.
(3) ASANA: Body postures. Here it is, the part of yoga that we are all most familiar with – the poses! A little tidbit I have learned thus far in teacher training is that asana was created to prepare the body for meditation. Sort of like working all the kinks out before sitting in stillness for minutes or hours. Makes sense, right? Over time, Western civilization has molded yoga to be mostly about the asana, or body postures, which has given society the idea that yoga is simply a workout. While this can be true (I myself started my yoga journey for the unique workout), we must understand that there is so, SO much more to the ancient practice than just the physical asana.
(4) PRANAYAMA: Breath control. Always complimenting asana, pranayama is the control of our breath to control the energy or life in our bodies. If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you know that we use the breath to either build heat and energy in the body, or to calm the mind and relax the body. Prana literally means energy or life, not necessarily the breath itself. However, we use breath to control prana. Got it? This was new to me, too. As we move through asana, being mindful of and staying connected to our breath allows us to more properly flow through the postures and remain in-tune with our self (body) and our Self (soul).
(5) PRATYAHARA: Control of the senses. Welcome to the most difficult limb for me to practice, personally. For a highly sensitive person like myself, learning how to starve my senses of nourishment is truly a challenge. However, to live with more equanimity (mental calmness), we must practice non-attachment. By not allowing our mind to be absorbed by the world and emotions around us, we are able to concentrate, moving to the next limb on this path of yoga.
(6) DHARANA: Concentration. As mentioned, if you’re reading this blog post (thank you, friend), you are practicing dharana. Often yoga teachers will ask us to “be present” or “be here” in yoga class. They’re asking you to practice your concentration by focusing on the class instead of being 10 steps ahead into your dinner plans or 10 steps behind in your work day. By concentrating on virtually whatever is in front of us (conversation, reading, work, driving, writing, cooking, yoga, etc.) we are able cultivate awareness of this activity, while also making room for the other limbs.
(7) DHYANA: Meditation. If you practice meditation, my hat goes off to you. This is often not an easy practice, but when you get in the habit of meditating each day for even a few minutes, you’ll quickly reap the benefits. Meditation is the practice of quieting the mind, acknowledging thoughts just as they are, and simply releasing thoughts as they come to the mind. Meditation allows you to focus your mind on your true spirit. Here’s an interesting way to look at meditation: when you focus your mind on an object, the mind naturally is transformed into the shape of the object. Hence, when you focus on your true spirit (your Self), you become more reflective of it and begin to take its shape. Cool, huh?
SAMADHI: Absorption and true enlightenment. Now that we’ve organized the other 7 limbs of yoga, our mind and body is free to experience and explore true enlightenment. This final limb allows us to come to the realization that life is exactly what it is, where we are most detached from the senses, and where we are beyond the realm of concentration and meditation. You know those moments where you zone out and seemingly stare at nothing, think about nothing, and sometimes even notice your hearing slowly shutting off? Then you’ve experienced samadhi! Unfortunately these moments cannot be forced, but we can most certainly prepare ourselves and design the sacred space to notice them. If only we could create samadhi or stay in this state of being for extended periods of time; imagine what we could discover there!
As you can clearly see, the physical practice of yoga is only a small portion. However, by practicing all 8 limbs of yoga, we can start to live in a more whole way, or live a more yogic lifestyle. Even by cultivating awareness of these 8 steps, we can begin to make our way down the life-changing path that is yoga.
I’d like to invite you to use the comments section below to talk about your experiences with the 8 limbs or how you believe being more in-tune with these core values can lead to living a more enlightened life.
Peace and so much love,